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Dion, Paltrow and other singers tune up their pipes for the Oscar show

February 25, 2011 |  8:37 pm


Hollywood's Kodak Theater was humming Friday afternoon as Gwyneth Paltrow, Mandy Moore, Alan Menken, Zachary Levi, Florence Welch, A.R. Rahman, Celine Dion and the kids from Staten Island's Public School 22 rehearsed their musical performances for Oscar night.

"Did we win already?" Levi said, smiling out at a crowd of enthusiastically clapping seat fillers after he, Menken and Moore finished a run-through of "I See the Light," their nominated song from "Tangled."

It was a day for anticipating logistical challenges: "Will you be able to do those stairs in your heels?" one of Moore's handlers asked the singer-actress as she maneuvered through the Kodak's byzantine backstage area in rehearsal-day flats. "Um... yeah," Moore said, sounding not 100% sure. In the downtime between setups, Levi trilled through some vocal exercises and eight-time Oscar winner Menken snapped photos from his spot at the piano.

"Can I have a bit of reverb for my voice?" asked Rahman, as he and Welch practiced Rahman's nominated song, "If I Rise," from "127 Hours."

When Paltrow showed up in the wings to practice "Coming Home," her nominated ballad from "Country Strong," she exchanged a hug with Welch. "Just look at this!" Welch said to Paltrow, gesturing out into the theater where seat placards marked spots for Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, and dozens of other nominees and presenters.

Dion, the most seasoned performer of the bunch when it comes to high-glamour events like the Oscars, ran through "Smile," which she'll sing during the show's "In Memoriam" montage with a 40+-piece orchestra. The singer's husband and manager, Rene Angelil, whispered in her ear as she sipped water from a straw. "C'est bon?" she asked, and got a nod.

The director of the P.S. 22 chorus, Gregg Breinberg, had a crowd of much more wide-eyed performers to prepare for Oscar day. "Everything is normal," Breinberg said, despite all evidence to the contrary for the 67 fifth graders who suddenly found themselves sharing a rehearsal space with Paltrow and Dion. "You are so professional, you're going to rock," he told them. "Super important: eye contact. Super important: emotional connection to the song."

After a few run-throughs of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that left some of their chaperones teary-eyed, the P.S. 22 kids got perhaps the day's best advice from their director: "Save some for Sunday!"

— Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak, center, sits with Oscar show producers Bruce Cohen, right, and Don Mischer, left, at a news conference about preparations for the 83rd Academy Awards on Friday. Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni